As he composed his teaching document for October in the year 1901, Pope Leo XIII clearly felt that something had been achieved. After a pontificate in which he had each year issued a document encouraging the use of the Holy Rosary, in preparation annually for the Rosary month of October, "grato et iucundo perfundimur consolationis sensu"! His Holiness had a feeling, in September 1901, that the Rosary was, indeed, being used more and more.
And Leo XIII had objective evidence for this feeling. The Bishop of Tarbes, which had Lourdes within its boundaries, was creating a great Rosary Basilica in which each of the Fifteen Mysteries was to have an altar in its honour.
Pope Leo was a clever and an able man. And a man of charm. The moment at which, in his nineties, he writes Parta humano generi is almost exactly the time when Philip de Laszlo painted the spectacular 'Budapest' portrait of the pontiff, which was such a triumph when it visited London in 2004: the quietly gracious smile; the long fingers in thoughtful repose; the penetrating black eyes. (It was to be awarded the Grand Gold Medal at the Paris International Exhibition in 1900.) De Laszlo records some of the topics about which the Pontiff discoursed during the sittings: " a great variety of subjects: political, religious, social, artistic and scientific questions, and also about Hungary ... I can say I have never met a man whose innermost feelings were revealed so expressively, and who would be more deserving a model to be studied by an artist."
How much more fortunate are some epochs, in their Roman Pontiffs, than others are!
Surely, we must sympathise with the Pope Leo's enthusiastic engagement with the Most Holy Rosary. Anybody, but especially those of us brought up on the magic of Fr Hope Patten's Anglican Shrine at Walsingham, which also possessed its fifeen altars for its fifteen mysteries, must feel our loss of the Rosary orientation in the present Catholic set-up. If that great barn of a 'Chapel of Reconciliation' were to be broken up by, perhaps, the insertion of internal screens, a design providing places for Fifteen Altars for fifteen simultaneous private Masses offered by fifteen priests, would not be beyond the wit of man, or of woman.
Pope Leo rejoiced, in 1901, that there were so many more Rosary sodalities, so much more Marian piety. But there were clouds, he reveals, even on his horizon. In the Pyrenaean passes where S Dominic had set the 'prima incunabula sancti Rosarii', there is a new ... Albigensian heresy! A 'Perniciosa lues [contagious disease]'. It has simply changed its name! "serpitque iterum per eas regiones" Yes; 'serpit' does mean what it sounds like! This new Albigensian heresy 'infects with the foulness of contagion and contaminates Christian peoples, dragging them to wretched disaster'. Surely, he feels, our Lady will smash, cut off, the multiple necks of the wicked hydra [remember that Leo XIII, Papa Pecci, was a classicist; author of Office hymns including O lux; Sacra iam.] which was prowling round all of Europe ...
Whom did Pope Leo, in the year 1901, have in mind? Was there really a revival of Albigensianism? Or did he mean Modernism? Or did he have in mind the laicite of his contemporary France (he mentions the persecution of the religious orders)?
For us in our own time, it is not difficult to fill in such gaps. In modern European Society, we have so many Hydra's Heads ... of transgenderism and of self-devised identies and of sexual promiscuity and so much else ... actually encouraged. Within the Church herself, there are the sick and sickly disorders of Bergoglianism.
Here be Hydras-a-plenty! Surely, part of the answer should be Rosaries-a-plenty! The incisive blade of the Sharp Lady who "cunctas haereses sola interimit in universo mundo" ... that's what the Rosary truly is!